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'Joint rights law to dignify customary marriage'

Image: 123RF/stockstudio44

Cultural experts believe the amended Recognition of Customary Marriages Act will give dignity to customary marriages still practised by many black people across the country.

The new law will see the amendment of certain parts of the Act including the addition of a clause that states that spouses in a customary marriage have joint and equal rights to ownership, rights of management and control over marital property.

Customary unions are still very common in South Africa, with more than 3,150 of them registered in 2018 alone - according to Statistics SA's report on Marriages and Divorces released last month.

Chief Livhuwani Matsila, from the Matsila royal family in Venda, said the numbers released by Stats SA was a drop in the ocean and more people in villages and townships, don't bother registering customary unions with home affairs.

"It's the norm in our village and surrounding communities, families exchange lobola and that's a done deal... except that the more affluent or more educated people with significant economic interest will go to register their marriages. The norm for us is getting married and raising children," he said.

Cultural expert Dr Bhedlindaba "VVO" Mkhize said he believed the bill will bring dignity to African customary marriages which were often likened to western civil marriages despite them being completely different. "In the Western sense, if you marry a wife, that's your wife but in the African context a wife belongs to the groom's family, father, ancestors and the groom's community," Mkhize said.

University of KZN's Professor Sihawu Ngubane said he hoped once the law is passed and signed, experts could be invited to deliberate on the interpretation and implementation thereof.

"The Act will help to form guidelines to protect women's rights, but without regulations which deals with how to implement the Act, it will not be easy to implement it."

The amended law also states that the amendments will affect all customary marriages whether they were entered into before or after the commencement of the Act as they will all be considered in community of profit and loss, "unless the spouses specifically determine otherwise by means of an antenuptial contract".

This bill will not, however, invalidate the winding up of a deceased estate that had already been finalised when it comes into effect sometime this year. On November 30 2017, the ConCourt gave parliament 24 months to amend the Act.

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